In Unison

Natalie sculling on Oyster Bay at sunset in the late summer 2017.

So one goal I have had for a while, several years now, is to switch back to sculling more in the mornings. This morning my alarm clock went off at 5 a.m. and around 5:45 a.m. I was pulling up outside the boathouse. The sunrise colors were amazing and the water was one calm layer of glass.

This is why I love sculling in the mornings. The feel is entirely different. The bay is quieter, the water is calmer (sometimes) and it’s just such a joyous way to start off my day.

This morning I had the added motivation of teaching a private lesson. We continued to work on the Joy Stroke with today’s focus on the ideas of rhythm, swing from the hips, when to look ahead, and the overall movement.

Borrowing heavily from the Joy Stroke as taught by Jim Joy, the discussion included a variety of ideas noted below.

The first idea was on rhythm. This included ideas for the both the recovery and the drive. On the recovery, the thoughts included: “allowing the shell to slide under the body as the recovery is done”; the “body is in a state of recovery and relaxation”; and how the “shell will [ideally] run level and continuous”.

Then on the drive, this morning’s thoughts included: “using an integrated drive from the entry to the release”; the “arms, trunk and legs are a whole application throughout the entire the drive”; and “the blade at blade depth and maintained throughout the drive”.

Our next focal point was on the swing from the hips. The “body sits lightly on the seat”. Feel your weight shift fore and aft on the seat through the stroke. Stretch, not strain. The swing from the hips throughout both the recovery and the drive has been a focus in my own sculling this past year through today. The swing from the hips controls the recovery, so it is no longer an idea of drawing the shell under me by pulling on my toes, and it is instead a great sense of float as the hip angle changes throughout the stroke. No set body angles early in the recovery. This is a more athletic approach and it is also a considerable departure from what I learned many years ago.

Since it was low tide, the shore line undulates in and out at low tide, so we also gave thought on when to look ahead (while sculling). I still prefer to teach the idea of the best time to look while sculling is just after the blades enter the water. The motion of looking ahead should have a rhythm to it. The overall idea is to be able to look ahead at the entry, but try to have finish looking before the release.

A few year’s back I switched over to using a small mirror on my eye glasses to look ahead. Since I wear prescription eye glasses, using a mirror has made steering much easier, but the last steering point discussed this morning was the importance of looking ahead every 5 to 10 strokes. We need to stay aware of our surroundings and not simply row and hope … hope that we do not run into anything.

Finally we gave thought to the overall movement with the focus being on an “athletic continuous flowing movement” with “everything is in a state of flux or change”. This includes “everything, legs, trunk, arms work together in unison”. “A well-timed drive in sculling will result in the legs body and arms finishing at the same time”. “Pull no more than feels easy and good and fluid”. “Less words, analysis and description and more whole stroke doing”.

I have benefitted so much from learning the Joy Stroke from Jim Joy over the years and this morning I continued to enjoy the effort to share this experience with a fellow sculler. I continue to look at sculling as a life-long pursuit. A continued effort to move towards an more seamless stroke while staying in tune with the surroundings. Feeling when a stroke is in unison with all is truly a beautiful moment in time.

Categorized as Sculling

By Mike Wagner

Mike began rowing in 1992 during his freshman year at Hofstra University. He learned to scull the following summer at the Sagamore Rowing Association. Mike worked with the Joy of Sculling as the Program Manager for the Coaching Conferences from 2013-2019. He continues to actively scull and coach both at Sagamore and at the Craftsbury Outdoors Center in Vermont.

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